Historic truth and lived history

By Alexandru FLORIAN

In the evening of October 22, the International commission for the study of the consequences of the Holocaust in Romania was created on the initiative of the president of Romania, Mr. Ion Iliescu, at the Cotroceni Palace. Here are some comments on the official speeches delivered on this occasion and on the dialogue between the commission members that followed the speeches.

It is for the first time that the foundation of a commission specialized in recent history has been laid in Romania since the end of WW2. Its purpose is to analyze and give a coherent and documented point of view on the Holocaust. The credibility of the research that the Commission will undertake is ensured by its character, for it is composed of historians, researchers and public personalities from Romania, Israel, Germany and the US who have an acknowledged expertise in the problems of the Holocaust and of WW2. Various approaches will be used and the final result will consist of a series of reports and collections of documents that will express the Commission’s point of view. In other words, the biases or prejudices will be marginalized, as the deontology of historical research will be sovereign. The Commission will not function anywhere beneath this professional and moral commandment.

The support of the Presidency for the Commission is undisputedly an important element. Far from being a political intervention in the historians’ debate on a controversial issue, president Iliescu’s gesture is meant to change the negative perception of the State institutions’ attitude towards the Holocaust, as it was expressed in the summer of this year. On the other hand, the openness of the Presidency towards encouraging the activity of the Commission will give it more authority and legitimacy, in a society in which anti-Semitic prejudices are still visible in very diverse social environments. As it natural, the final report will be assumed by the Presidency, thus acquiring an extended relevance that will surpass the academic world. This way, the Romanian society will generate one of the pre-requisites that are necessary so that its history, good or bad, be known and perceived as it was.

The Commission will not give a verdict, as it does not judge, nor does it express absolute truths. But it has the opportunity and the mission to formulate, relying on the common effort of the historians, a clear message regarding the fate of the Jews in Romania, as well as the responsibility of the State authorities during the Holocaust. The answers of the Commission will be based solely on the historic truth. Supported by high political institutions of the State (as it is mentioned in the draft), this project has a good chance of gaining prestige and of being assimilated in the collective mentality. At least, it will be possible that the prejudices and the populist discourses in this field be diminished by messages that will use reason and documentary evidence in order to prove the malign character of certain political or military actions.

The intention to use the Commission’s results in the educational process or to disseminate the experts’ message to the civil society is a necessary step in reconciling ourselves with our history. In fact, it is an opportunity to prove civic adulthood, the adoption of the democratic values and the liberation from the symptoms of a collective mentality rooted in patterns of human relationships based on discriminatory differences and exclusive behaviors resulting from a reactionary vision of the human being.

The Commission does not enter an empty ground. At the social level, it is mined by prejudice and by a negation mythology. On the other hand, there are already published documents, analyses, studies and whole volumes on the Holocaust in Romania. The Commission will extend its research to the delicate areas, in order to give documented statements. It will also facilitate the access to the specialized archives in Romania. I believe that special attention should be given to the situation of the Roma people under Antonescu’s regime. The support for an unrestricted access to documents that Mr. Ion Iliescu reiterated on this occasion, apart from being a welcome one, also proves the Government’s intention to really do something to help.

There will be no winner or losers after the Commission’s activity. Its purpose is to secure a larger diffusion area for the historic truth. The International commission for the study of the consequences of the Holocaust in Romania is neither a Romanian invention, nor an invention of Romania’s “enemies”. Similar commissions are already in place in France, Belgium or other European countries. The fact that Prof. Elie Wiesel, a Romanian-born Jew, survivor of the death camps, and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, chairs the Commission reassures me. His personality expresses equilibrium and tolerance (so necessary when team work is involved), but also the courage of one for whom truth is synonymous with lived history.